About two *cough* decades ago, I conducted my Ph.D research on parental behavior, using a bird species as my model system. In the biological sciences, it’s common practice to use research models to ask questions that then might be applicable to other species — perhaps even applicable to… people *gasp*. Through my background research, I discovered that there are actually a lot of social parallels between people and birds. Birds are socially monogamous and they are largely biparental, meaning that in most species, both father and mother provide parental care to the offspring (not necessarily equally or through the same tasks, but for most bird species where offspring are born helpless, fathers and mothers collaborate to care for these youngsters). In my studies, I also learned about this relatively straightforward seeming concept called the Concorde Fallacy. Named after the very expensive supersonic jet, the Concorde Fallacy refers to the error in reasoning of the British and French governments’ continued investment into the aircraft program because they already had invested in it, despite the impracticality and lack of economic need of this luxury transport. The Concorde Fallacy serves as a warning against the common argument that “we have come this far and now we should continue.” The argument is not that you shouldn’t ever use past investment as a justification for continuing: just as all businesses require a start-up period with initial investment, all writing takes time, effort, and sacrifice before you can finish a project or publish a book.
How often do writers commit The Concorde Fallacy with their own work? How many times have we persisted with a project because we’ve come this far and can’t quit now? How could we let go of a project if we’ve put years and years of our time and energy and effort into it? How do we avoid feeling like the planet’s biggest failure if we do walk away?
In working on my Ph.D so long ago, I remember grappling with the question of whether I could apply some of these principles to my own life. According to my advisor, I wasn’t supposed to think of my own research concepts in the context of my own life. After discussing-arguing this point with him for the twentieth time, he gritted his teeth (or maybe he was smiling) and said that I had the mind of a sociologist and not a biologist. To this day, I love teaching biology and asking scientific questions. While I occasionally use my scientific background in my fiction writing, I more or less gave up on trying to apply those long-ago research concepts to my own life — until recently.
Last weekend I attended the Storymakers Conference for the very first time, and everything about this conference spoke to me: the classes, the intensives, the energy, and meeting old friends and new. But one of the things that struck me most of all came during one of the keynote speeches, delivered by the brilliant and talented, and kind and humble, author Ally Condie. As just one example of the many inspiring messages, Ally told us about two back-burner projects that she wrote. These began as projects that were not what her publisher requested. Despite this, she felt compelled to write them, and so she did. As I sat in the ballroom listening to Ally’s speech, I felt like someone had punched me in the chest (and no, it wasn’t Ally because she is too kind). But it was her message on giving yourself permission to be daring, to start something new and something that you’re excited about, to write something that you want to write, not necessarily something that you’re supposed to write. She made the important point that while some of these projects will never see the light of day, others will. In Ally’s case, the two back-burner projects she mentioned were ones you may have heard of: MATCHED and SUMMERLOST.
So, I have been working on a manuscript since the summer of 2014. It started as a challenge from one of my critique partners. For much of the first three months of writing this, what I will here refer to as the “scarred story” didn’t feel quite right. At the three month mark, I was forced to put it aside to finish the third book in my YA trilogy, which was on a deadline (while the scarred story was not). Book three of my trilogy was finished the following spring, and at that time, I went back to working on my scarred story. That was over two years ago, I have rewritten it many many MANY times. I am still unhappy with the beginning, parts of the middle, and I have never gotten to the ending. I know my characters well, but they don’t speak to me very openly anymore. But for over two years, I told myself I had to keep at it because I owed it to those characters to finish their story. Because I am not a quitter. Because I don’t want to fail. Because I have already come this far so how could I ever … oh. OH! Oh.
The morning after Ally Condie’s keynote speech, I closed all of my files that held my scarred story, the story that was so familiar to me yet so distant. I took my little AlphaSmart word processor down to the hotel lobby and opened up a brand new file. I started to write a new story, a back-burner project that has been rattling around in my head for some time now, and as I tapped on my keyboard, those ideas jumped out and started to play out in my mind like they were celebrating. I’m not kidding — I seriously felt like crying, in part because it felt so good to start working on this new project, but also because I had finally given myself permission to let go of the scarred one.
I haven’t shelved my scarred story forever. I know will come back to it, and I know will do it justice, but I will do it when I’m ready. And it’s okay to let it go for now (and yes, even if it is forever) because writing is about heart. If our hearts are not in our work, then there is really no purpose.
Helen Boswell loved to get lost in the pages of a story from the time she could sound out the words. She credits her dad, an avid fiction reader, with encouraging her to read ALL OF THE BOOKS on his shelves from the time she was a teenager. An author of both urban fantasy and contemporary romance, she loves to read and write characters that come to life with their beauty, flaws, and all. She is the author of the upper YA MYTHOLOGY trilogy and new adult contemporary romances. You can find out more about her books at www.helenboswell.com.